It started with a squeak: Moonlight serenade helps lemurs pick mates of the right species

May 07, 2008
It started with a squeak: Moonlight serenade helps lemurs pick mates of the right species
Micocebus murinus on the lookout for a mate. Credit: Tiho Hannover

Lonely hearts columns testify that finding a partner can be hard enough, but at least most human beings can be fairly certain that when we do we have got one of the right species. Things aren’t so simple for all animals. Some Malagasy mouse lemurs are so similar that picking a mate of the right species, especially at night time in a tropical forest, might seem like a matter of pot luck. However, new research in BioMed Central’s journal BMC Biology has shown that our desperately cute distant cousins use vocalisations to pick up a partner of the right species.

Until recently, grey, golden brown, and Goodman’s mouse lemurs were all thought to be the same species. But genetic testing revealed that they are, in fact, three distinct, species so similar that they cannot be told apart by their appearance—so called cryptic species.

“A fundamental problem for cryptic species that live in the same area and habitat is the coordination of reproduction and discrimination between potential mates of the same species and remarkably similar individuals of other species” say Pia Braune and colleagues from the Institute of Zoology, University of Veterinary Medicine, Hannover University.

Males of these nocturnal species use advertising calls to let females know that they are looking for love. The researchers recorded advertising calls from the three species and then played them back to grey mouse lemurs, noting what response, if any, they made. “Grey mouse lemurs reacted more to calls from other grey mouse lemurs than to those of either other species”, say the researchers. Furthermore, the grey mouse lemurs seemed to ignore the calls of golden brown mouse lemurs, which live in the same area and habitat to them, but show some interest in the calls of Goodman’s mouse lemur, which they would never normally meet. “The importance of vocalisation in attracting mates is well known for frogs and birds”, explain the authors, “but this is the first evidence for species-specific call divergence in the communication of cryptic primate species with overlapping ranges.”

The lemurs’ moonlight serenades help to ensure that individuals of one species don’t waste time trying to mate with those of another, which would produce either no offspring or infertile hybrids. Indeed, the possibility of grey and golden-brown mouse lemurs encountering each other might explain the difference in calls and responses, according to Braune: “our data support the evolutionary hypothesis that species cohesiveness has led to divergence in signalling and recognition to avoid costly hybridisation.”

Source: BioMed Central

Explore further: Too hot: Temperatures messing with sex of Australian lizards

Related Stories

Lemurs the world's most threatened mammal: study

Jul 14, 2012

Lemurs, the furry apes brought to fame by the Disney animation film "Madagascar", are the most endangered mammals on Earth, an International Union for Conservation of Nature conference found.

Clues to aging from long-lived lemurs

Mar 30, 2015

When Jonas the lemur died in January, just five months short of his thirtieth birthday, he was the oldest of his kind. A primate called a fat-tailed dwarf lemur, Jonas belonged to a long-lived clan. Dwarf ...

Recommended for you

'Map of life' predicts ET. (So where is he?)

3 hours ago

Extra-terrestrials that resemble humans should have evolved on other, Earth-like planets, making it increasingly paradoxical that we still appear to be alone in the universe, the author of a new study on ...

Baby seals that practice in pools make better divers

3 hours ago

Being able to dive is what matters most for seal pups, but how do they learn to do it? Grey seal pups that can play in pools may have better diving skills once they make the move to the sea, and this could ...

Insect legs give clues to improving aircraft design

3 hours ago

Insect legs could help engineers improve the safety of long tubular structures used in aircraft to reduce weight and in hospital equipment, such as catheters. Scientists from Trinity College Dublin are looking ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.